Coping Skills for Mental Illness

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Mental illness is a broad term; under that umbrella, there are myriad symptoms, ranging from mild to severe.

Mental illnesses are medical conditions that affect your brain instead of, for example, your heart. There are many qualities every person has aside from their medical conditions, which also applies to people living with mental health conditions. In other words, they are not defined by their condition.

This article will discuss many facts about mental illness, coping skills for mental illness, and ways to help a friend or family member.

**Scroll to the bottom for Worksheets

Facts about Mental Illnesses

  • Mental illnesses are medical problems like diabetes, NOT personal failures.
  • Mental illnesses affect emotions, thinking, and behavior.
  • Mental illnesses are very common. In 2017 there were an estimated 1 billion people living with these conditions worldwide, that’s 1 in 7 people. This is considered a minimum estimate since many do not seek help, making these conditions under-reported and under-diagnosed.
  • Mental illnesses are treatable, and treatments are readily available. Like diabetes, the symptoms can be controlled.
  • Most individuals with mental illnesses continue to function in their daily lives although it is challenging, like living with other medical conditions.
  • Mental illnesses can affect absolutely anyone regardless of age, race, gender, religion, wealth, social status, culture, or upbringing.
  • Mental illnesses range from mild anxiety to major depressive disorder and schizophrenia.
  • Certain mental illnesses left untreated can lead to suicide.

Some Disorders Considered to be Mental Illnesses 

In the United States, mental health professionals use diagnostic criteria to diagnose mental disorders or illnesses as listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition or DSM-5.

These are some common disorders. This is not even close to a complete list.

Adult Mental Disorders

  • Alcohol or Substance Use Disorder
  • Anxiety Disorders
    • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
    • Panic Disorder
    • Phobias
    • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD)
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Opioid Use Disorder
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia

Sleep/Wake Disorders

  • Insomnia Disorder
  • Nightmare Disorder
  • Narcolepsy
  • Restless Legs Syndrome
  • Sleepwalking Disorder
  • Sleep Terror Disorder

Childhood Mental Disorders (Sometimes labeled as developmental or learning disorders)

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Attachment Disorder
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD)
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder
  • Stuttering
  • Tourette’s Disorder

Skills for Coping with Mental Illnesses

Some forms of mental illnesses can be very mild, such as mild insomnia and mild anxiety. These can often be managed with self-help strategies.

Getting professional help for most conditions considered as mental illnesses is essential, just as one would seek treatment for any medical condition. Additionally, many people living with mental illnesses need self-help skills they can use on a daily basis to get through a phase of acute symptoms.

Note: There are many coping skills, the following list is not a comprehensive list. These are not meant to replace professional help and Not all of these work for everyone.

1. Radical Acceptance: This is used as part of Cognitive Behavioral therapy, specifically Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). We all experience things that are difficult and painful. We may try to ignore the pain and resist talking about the emotions but often the avoidance just leads to more suffering in the form of anxiety, depression, or destructive behaviors such as gambling, drinking too much, eating disorders, or even working too much.

Radical acceptance or completely accepting a situation as a fact that cannot be changed recognizes the pain but aims to avoid the suffering that often follows due to avoidance. Once a situation is fully or radically accepted, the chance to move on to the next step of dealing with it opens up. This can be used in many areas in life but for our subject of mental illness, it means accepting this condition and moving ahead with treatment and self-help techniques.

2. Controlled breathing: We constantly hear about breathing these days but it is a known strategy for relaxing.

Psychology Today says that when you take a deep diaphragmatic inhalation through your nose, followed by a long, slow exhalation through pursed lips, the result is the stimulation of your vagus nerve, this in turn boosts your parasympathetic nervous system and creates an inner sense of calm. The power of deep, slow “belly breathing” to counterbalance fight-or-flight stress responses is well-established.

3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): There are different therapies under the umbrella of CBT and one of these is known as Opposite to Emotion Behavior. We tend to feed our emotions, for example when we are sad we may listen to sad music or watch sad movies but usually, this just ends up making us feel sadder.

Opposite to Emotion Behavior means identifying what we are feeling and finding an activity that is opposite to that so instead of feeding the emotion, it is changed into another, more positive emotion. In the example of feeling anxious we would need a calming, relaxing action… maybe controlled breathing? If the emotion is sadness, instead of listening to sad music, put on happy music, and so forth.

4. Grounding: Often used for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but also helpful for anxiety or panic attacks, grounding brings you into the present by using your 5 senses. During a flashback or episode of upsetting thoughts or feelings or anxiety attacks, for example, one would use sight, sound, smell, touch, and sight to re-focus their mind and attention. Depending on where you are this will be different but to use it quickly in a public place, keeping your eyes open at all times and think about the details of what you are seeing, focus on what you can smell, touch a surface and make a mental note of the feeling, chew a piece of gum or take a mint and focus on the taste, think about the sounds you are hearing. Grounding can have a calming effect for many people, myself included.

5. Music: Try to have some songs that you can quickly listen to in times of depression especially. In advance at a time when you are feeling better, choose a few uplifting songs to listen to when you are depressed. Music is very powerful and can bring us out of certain types of depression.

6. Re-frame Negative Thoughts: This is what it sounds like, basically turning negative thoughts into positive thoughts, so it takes a conscious effort as all of these skills do. Again, it comes back to refocusing in order to reach a more positive overall attitude. Practice this in your daily life so that it becomes a habit. As an example, when thinking the driver in front of you is stupid, try thinking of an alternative reason they might not be driving their best, perhaps they just received bad news or are having a medical emergency.

How to Help a Friend or Family Member with Mental Health Issues

  • Perseverance is of utmost importance, persist in loving and helping them despite the difficulty.
  • Educate yourself about their particular disorder, what the symptoms and treatment options are.
  • Remember it is not their fault, it is a medical illness like diabetes or heart disease, remind them of this.
  • Help in practical ways, watching children, or doing errands.
  • Find professional help and present it to your loved one, offer to go with them or be with them if it’s an online program such as this
  • Always be loving, supportive, and positive, offer reassurance.
  • Do not expect them to get over this without help any more than they could with a physical illness.
  • Find ways to take care of yourself. You need rest and someone to talk to.
  • You will have to set certain boundaries in order to make time for yourself, but don’t voice this in a way that makes your loved one feel like a burden.

If you make a purchase through a link on this page,  I may receive a commission, however, there is no extra charge to you. This allows me to continue promoting awareness of mental health issues. Thank you.

Stigma Attached to Mental Illness

Despite the facts listed above, attitudes toward those with mental illnesses tend to be more negative than toward those with other medical conditions, which makes it more difficult to seek help and recover.

Negative attitudes lead to discrimination that can come from society at large as well as friends, family, co-workers, and employers. For many this will mean getting kicked out of school or fired from jobs, some will attempt to take advantage or resort to name-calling.

Just like those with medical issues need compassion to avoid discouragement and despair so do those with mental health conditions.

Education about mental health and mental illness will help us to break down these hurtful stereotypes.

Our words matter, even if said in private. Calling someone crazy or psychotic perpetuates hurtful stereotypes and is like referring to someone as kidney diseased, heart diseased, or cancerous. If necessary it’s best to just say they have schizophrenia or they have depression.

Above All, Be Kind!

You may not have anxiety, depression, PTSD, or bipolar disorder. You may not know what it feels like to live with these issues (consider yourself fortunate) but try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Have empathy, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

In dealings with others daily ask yourself how your behavior might affect them?

Please watch the following, short but powerful video that illustrates the importance of always treating others with Kindness!

September is National Suicide Prevention Month


Please call your local emergency phone number if you are having thoughts of harming yourself.

In the US call 1-800-273-8255

Or find more Crisis Lifeline phone numbers HERE.

Should I Call The Lifeline?

No matter what problems you’re dealing with, whether or not you’re thinking about suicide, if you need someone to lean on for emotional support, call the Lifeline.

People call to talk about lots of things: substance abuse, economic worries, relationships, sexual identity, getting over abuse, depression, mental and physical illness, and loneliness, to name a few.

Talking with someone about your thoughts and feelings can save your life.


Disclaimer: The information in this website is for educational purposes only; it is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or mental health conditions. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider to evaluate and treat your physical and mental symptoms.

Please leave your kind questions or remarks in the comments section below. Your e-mail address will not be visible and you can use an alias if you wish.

**Get Worksheets Here

You can sign up an alias. Go to categories, choose any one you want for example, Panic Attacks, then go in and take the quiz.


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14 Replies to “Coping Skills for Mental Illness”

  1. Thank you for this information, having lost 2 family members to suicide I know how insidious mental health issues can be sometimes the family can be the last to know about their suffering.

    You mentioned the need “ Educate yourself about their particular disorder, what the symptoms and treatment options are.” I could not agree more.

    Thank you for the article


    1. Deven,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I’m truly sorry for your losses.

      Sincerely, Alison

  2. Hi Alison,

    I’m enjoying reading your articles.

    Your articles are very light to the eyes and mind – they opened my conservative thinking. I was really enlightened and you have awakened in me a desire to advocate education and awareness about mental illness.

    Be visiting this site again..

    God bless you always,

    1. Chuna,

      Thank you so much! It really means a lot to me to know that my article affected you that way. It’s great to have as many people as possible involved in the education about mental health.

      Blessings to you too,

  3. It is very important that we take good care of ourselves, from our mental health to our physical self, this will help keep a very good balance between our mind and body.  Coping skills for mental illness is an important topic to read about. It will be very helpful to a lot of people, thanks.

    1. It’s so important to understand what people are going through and to treat them with kindness and respect. Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment, I really appreciate hearing your thoughts.


  4. Hello there! Thank you very much for sharing this article on coping skills for mental illness. I must say, I really did enjoy going through this article as it contains valuable information one needs to hold on to. It is very important that we take good care of ourselves, from our mental health to our physical self, this will help keep a very good balance between our mind and body. I have an anxiety disorder but I’m taking pills to suppress it. Thank you for sharing this 

    1. Thank you for your comment Sophie. I’m glad you are taking care of yourself and your anxiety is under control. I wish you all the best.


  5. evagreen221 says:

    As u said mental problem is a very broad word and the type of illness and symptoms May differ by person and illness types but from study it’s possible to learn to treat them…thanks for sharing this awesome article I know it would be of great help to the public as it has been of help to me.

    1. Evagreen221, Thank you so much for your comment. It means a lot to me to learn what my readers think and if the information has been helpful. I do wish you all the best.


  6. Ah, this is a good post and a very wonderful topic for you to dwell on to tell us about the best skills for those who have mental illness. I think apart from those who have mental illness, this is something that everyone should learn because it will help boost mental wellness too.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to say that Jackie. I agree with you that it can be helpful for everyone and I’m grateful that you brought that out.

      Stay well,


  7. Thanks for this well written educating article. I consider this article to be of great value because of the priceless knowledge I have gained from reading it. Mental illness is something to worry much about because it can lead to something else. I have really learnt a lot from the skills of coping with mental illness, how to help a loved one with mental illness, and the stigma attached to mental illness. Thanks for taken your time to deliver such a brilliant article.

    1. You’re welcome Kelvin and thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’m glad you were able to learn from my article!

      Best, Alison

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